Jerusalem was, of course, the sacred city of the Bible and focus of the Jewish people for thousands of years: it was religious center, goal of pilgrims, capital city of the ruler, and seat of administration and law. The city itself lies on the southern spur of a plateau in the Judean Mountains, surrounded by valleys and dry riverbeds - one of the oldest continuing cities in the world, occupied for at least six thousand years.
Though there were people living on the site as early as the 4th millennium BC, the fortress/city only became prominent in history after David captured it and made it his capital.
His first capital had been at Hebron, but he had good reason to move. Jerusalem was in a better geographical position, lying on the border between Judah and the northern tribes, and despite the fact that he himself had taken the citadel, its position atop steep cliffs made it difficult to overrun.
At David's death, the city was still quite small. David had been too busy with court intrigue and hard-fought battles to think about renovations.
His son was more ambitious. Solomon used Phoenician craftsmen and enforced labor to carry out the great construction program that resulted in the building of the First Temple and the palace in Jerusalem (1 Kings 7.52, 5.27).
Solomon would have nothing but the best. He imported wood (cedar) from Lebanon, and the Temple was embellished and decorated with the over-the-top style then fashionable. Less was definitely not more.
The royal palace probably stood north of the city. There are no traces of it now, since Herod demolished everything that was there to extend the astonishing Temple he built. But according to 1 Kings 7:1-12, the palace was built of Lebanese cedar, with a vestibule hall of columns, a throne room, residential quarters and a luxurious palace for the women of the harem - Solomon's 'thousand wives'. The rooms would have opened onto extensive courtyards. The palace itself was quite independent of the city, with a high wall surrounding it. You had to pass through a guard-house to enter it.
According to 1 Kings 6:2-3, the First Temple was a long-room temple with a vestibule hall and a separate room for the Holy of Holies. There were two columns in the vestibule hall, and splendid furnishings and fittings. The walls were covered with wooden panels embellished with gold-leaf overlay.
The houses of the citizens of Jerusalem were far simpler, situated on terraces, with the ancient Israelite type of building retained. Of course, this meant that people were crammed together closely, and as time passed the more affluent citizens began to build houses just outside the city walls.
All these buildings are long gone - destroyed in war or demolished to make way for later buildings. The only part left from David and Solomon's reigns may be the stones illustrated at left, which are possibly ramparts from the city wall. Excavations have revealed a stepped stone structure, possibly foundations, dating from the 10th century BC.
When Solomon died, the ten northern tribes broke away from the federation, setting up their own kingdom in the north. Solomon's son Rehoboam was left with sovereignty over only two tribes. But he still had Jerusalem.
In 922BC the Egyptian pharaoh Sheshonk I led a raid into Judah, and sacked the city, stealing the treasure of the Temple (and probably the royal women's jewelry as well). He was followed in the next century by the Philistines and Arabs, and then in 786BC Joash of Israel invaded Judah and tore down part of the wall surrounding Jerusalem.
After Hezekiah became king of Judah, he built new fortifications and an underground tunnel (see illustration at left), which brought water from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam inside the city. This was an extraordinary engineering achievement, done with what are primitive tools by modern standards.
In 1880 an inscription was discovered. It had been cut into the tunnel wall, and describes the meeting of the two groups of stone-cutters who were digging from opposite ends of the tunnel:
Despite his best efforts, Hezekiah was no match for the Assyrians, and in 701BC Sennacherib of Assyria 'came down like a wolf on the fold', extracting a heavy tribute from Jerusalem. Eight years later Jerusalem was laid waste and its king deported to Babylon. In 586BC the city and Temple were completely destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, and the long exile in Babylon began.
Eventually, in 538BC, the people were allowed to return to Jerusalem. The once magnificent city was a sorry sight. Nothing seemed to remain, just a few small buildings and a demoralized peasantry living in huts, where once there had been the Temple, palaces, houses and commercial buildings.
Bit by bit the people, led by Zerubbabel of the house of David, began to rebuild Jerusalem. They were determined to re-establish their sacred city. The Temple was restored by 515BC, and Jerusalem once more became the center of the new state. Its position was strengthened when Nehemiah restored the fortifications surrounding the city.
With the coming of Alexander the Great, Jerusalem entered the world of Western power politics. After Alexander's death, Palestine was taken over by his marshal, Ptolemy I, who had occupied Egypt and made Alexandria his capital. In 198BC Jerusalem was taken over by the dynasty descended from Seleucus I, another of Alexander's marshal.
This was significant in cultural terms, since the new rulers promoted Greek culture and religious ideas, and tried to suppress Jewish practices. In 167BC Antiochus IV desecrated the Temple, and a revolt against the Seleucid rulers broke out. This revolt was led by the Maccabees, who were able to expel the Seleucids. Jerusalem regained its position as the capital of an independent state ruled by the priestly Hasmonean family.
Then came the Romans. They had for some time been expanding into the eastern Mediterranean world, and in 63BC Pompey captured Jerusalem. The way for peaceful co-existence was smoothed by the machinations of the Herod family, and in 40BC Herod, who had distinguished himself as governor of Galilee, was appointed a 'client king' of Judaea by the Roman Senate. He was the friend of Mark Antony, and when Mark Antony was defeated at the Battle of Actium and committed suicide, the wily Herod was able to persuade Octavian, later Augustus, that he should remain as king of Judaea.
Herod was king for the next thirty-six years, and in this period Jerusalem enjoyed its greatest period of glory. The Temple Mount esplanade was artificially enlarged with supporting walls (including the Western Wall, now called the Wailing Wall), to provide a platform for Herod's greatest achievement, the new Temple, which took more than a generation to build. The new royal palace was strengthened by immense towers that were built into the older walls, and the Temple was defended by a new citadel. Jerusalem also acquired a Hellenistic amphitheatre.
Jerusalem was now the religious center, the goal of obligatory pilgrimages, the capital of the ruler, and the seat of the autonomous court of the Sanhedrin or Jewish Council of Elders.
Nothing lasts forever. In 66AD the Jewish people rebelled against Rome and in 70AD the city was besieged and almost completely destroyed by the Roman forces under Titus. The Temple, Herod's most splendid building, was reduced to rubble.
Quoted from 'David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible's Sacred Kings', Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman, p269-70
Quoted from 'Jerusalem, One City, Three Faiths', Karen Armstrong, p128
Ground plans, excavations, information: BIBLE ARCHITECTURE: JERUSALEM
King Solomon's Temple, King Herod's Temple: BIBLE BUILDINGS
Solomon's Palace in Jerusalem: BIBLE ARCHAEOLOGY: PALACES
For information on Jerusalem in later centuries, see ISLAMIC ARCHITECTUREJerusalem
Jerusalem - Archaeology of The Bible - Bible Study Resource: Jerusalem, city of King David and the Jewish People in Old and New Testament times